Removing Barriers to Diversity in the UK and U.S. Militaries Could Bring Significant Operational and Strategic Advantage

A new report from RAND Europe Leveraging Diversity for Military Effectiveness has highlighted the significant strategic advantage that embracing diversity in the military could bring to the United Kingdom and the United States. From the exceptional information skills prevalent in many neurodiverse individuals, to language capability and advantages associated with having a military force that reflects the makeup of wider society, the report finds a significant range of benefits.

In a rapidly evolving environment, the military need to leverage all available advantages to maximise strategic and operational effectiveness, the authors conclude.

Areas of military activity already seeing rapid change include technology, new domains, and changing conflict geography, as well as changing dynamics between and among state and nonstate actors.

Researchers based in the United Kingdom and United States investigated what advantages diversity can bring to the armed forces as they navigate a changing nature of warfare and strategic trends like the impact of emerging technologies. The research highlighted, for example, that diversity would be important in developing effective, ethical, and trustworthy AI systems.

To effectively leverage diversity in this and other contexts of military activity, the researchers noted however that ambition needs to be matched with addressing barriers to inclusion within existing structures, such as retention and promotion of diverse personnel.

The team recommend a clear, strategic approach to overcoming these barriers to inclusion, with the opportunities and priorities identified through an operational framework to improve diverse representation in three key ways:

  • Enhancing organisational capacity for innovation, adaptation, and quality of decisionmaking
  • Fostering external legitimacy, enhancing military ability to project influence, and improving engagement with partners, allies, and other domestic and international audiences
  • Improving the Armed Forces’ ability to attract, retain, and foster skills needed to address current and evolving national security imperatives.

Ben Caves, senior research leader at RAND Europe, said: “It’s clear that the UK and U.S. militaries are facing a range of new challenges on a number of fronts. To address these challenges, the military needs diverse perspectives and skillsets—and that means employing, retaining, and promoting a diverse workforce.

“The UK and U.S. Armed Forces have come a long way in attracting diverse workforces in recent years, though we know that barriers to inclusion still exist. Our study offers key decisionmakers in the UK and U.S. Armed Forces an actionable framework for leveraging diversity and implementing the necessary change in how the Defence workforce is managed.”

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